Thursday, May 17, 2018

The Day I Changed

Most - if not all - women have a moment like this, an instant in their lives when their sense of self is rewritten and their self-image is forever changed. This is how it happened for me.

* * * * *

My cousin, Sharon, and me on the Thanksgiving of my fourth-grade year. 
I felt endlessly chic in that plaid coat and the double strap Mary Janes. Was I already fat?

My nine-year-old self woke up on a cold winter Monday in Michigan. Weak and worn after a two-week bout of pneumonia, I still felt far too exhausted to face the day. But my mother pronounced me ready to return to school and cheerfully commanded me to get out of bed and dress. 

I dragged myself upright, pulled on my favorite fourth-grade outfit: a long-sleeve mustard store-bought mock turtleneck, and a cranberry corduroy skirt. My mom had made the skirt, as she made most of my clothes, and I had picked the pattern featuring a single triangular pleat in front, and the corduroy fabric. I wore a lot of corduroy, but this was a special blend of wide wale and standard width wale alternating in thick and thin fuzzy stripes. 

I loved that skirt. 

My stylish ensemble usually filled me with confidence but on this morning it did not work its usual charm. I stumbled from my room, and drooped to the table where my mom was setting out breakfast. I still hoped she might take note of my listlessness and tuck me back into bed, rather than marching me off through the snow to the school bus. But she was all systems go. 

"You'll be fine," she announced as she cleared away my dishes.  I stood up to go get my snow clothes on, and she surveyed my outfit approvingly. "You look very nice." 

Then, with unmistakable excitement in her voice, she added, "I think you've lost some weight! Your skirt looks so much better on you now."

And suddenly, I was very, very confused. 

I knew I had been seriously sick. Besides missing two full weeks of school, I'd taken a lot of medicine, undergone multiple chest x-rays, and spent countless hours in bed, too weak to even haul myself to the couch for reruns of Andy Griffith and Bewitched. I'd heard the concern in my doctor's voice as he had quietly conferred with my mother, and I knew she had worried about me too. 

Yet now, she seemed almost happy that I'd been sick. Whatever I had been through, however awful I still might feel, was I to understand that it had all worth it because I'd lost weight?

Did I need to lose weight?
Had I been fat? Was I still fat?
Why had I not known this about myself?

This was the day I began to feel shame about my body. 
This was the day I began to worry about my weight. 
This was the day I started feeling fat. 

And this was the day I began to believe that suffering was the price I was required to pay in order to not be fat. 

* * * * *

I don't blame my mother for this. I later learned that she and I come from a long line of body-shamers, strong German women who mistook their broad shoulders and strong hands for clumsy, unattractive girth. We are not pretty, dainty ladies, my maternal bloodlines subtly preached to me; we are big and fat. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Self-Care

Also I do not skimp on soaking up the spring blossoms. 

Take care of yourself with that Bell's palsy, they tell me.

Honestly, I don't really know what that means. 

But here's something I do know. With a paralyzed face, I have to move slowly in the shower. 

I make sure the shampoo doesn't drip into the corner of that unblinking eye. Slowly, carefully I run a warm washcloth over the cheeks and brow with my untrained left hand as my right hand holds the left eye closed. I move gently and carefully so as not to flick water into an eye that doesn't know how to protect itself. 

After the water stops, my newfound patient and slow rituals continue. I towel carefully around my unblinking eye, gently pat down my unmoving face, brush hair and teeth gently, carefully slip fresh clothes on.

In a final concession to my palsied condition, I pull back my hair into a low and soaking wet ponytail, then slip my black pirate eye patch into place. It’s a visually jarring addition to my peaceful routine but I've come to love that patch. My eye is well protected.. I feel safe for the night.

I slip into my bed. The room is dark and very chilly. I tuck my legs up against my faithful dog who snores sleepily from her nest at the foot of the bed. She has already warmed my comforter. My husband is long since asleep. I lay my neat wet head on the pillow, tuck my hands under my cheek, and feel the cool breezes blow across my shoulders. 

I consider pressing play on my current audio book but decide to skip it. Everything is perfect peace right now and I hate to disturb it. I take a long last sip of ice water, relishing every delicious drop.  I know that I will wake up many times in the night, thirst crazed by my medications, and drink ravenously, but for now, this sip is perfect. 

Now I am ready to sleep. . 

And while I can't be sure, I think I have taken good care of myself. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Bell's Palsy

Happily, in spite of Bell's palsy, spring goes rolling along and so do I.


Woke up Monday morning drooling on my pillow.
Never a good start to a day.

Brushed my teeth and drooled some more.
Something is definitely wrong.

Looked in the mirror.
My face was, for lack of a better word, crooked.

Unsymmetrical, puffy and misshapen
Eyes twitching, mouth carved into a sneer.

What in the heck is going on?

Twenty-four hours later, I had some answers.

Bell's palsy
Temporary paralysis on one side of my face.
Facial nerves from chin to forehead are inflamed and irritated, and completely shut down.
Caused by close association with invasive viruses, such as chicken pox, shingles or herpes.
But I have had none of that.

A disease that is not common but not terribly rare.
Taking steroids to heal the nerves and wipe out any intrusive virus.
Biggest risk is to my eye that cannot close - call in the artificial tears and eye patches
This should all be over in a week to ten days.
Bell's palsy.

Well. Isn't life full of interesting little surprises.